Tuesday, January 29, 2013

{redux} cheerful weather for the wedding

Simon of Stuck In A Book suggested a readalong of Julia Strachey's Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. Below, I reprint my review, originally blogged in September 2011. 

Julia Strachey by Dora Carrington (1925; source)

A reread has not altered my opinion in any way of this book - I loved it, despite its EXTREME MISERY. If anything, rereading made me admire even more the atmosphere created by Strachey - all suffocating in colours and flowers and smells and enclosed spaces (to which I can now add a detail I missed the first time - the tortoise in the tin). 

The symbolic overload (including things like people's hands: some 'like raw meat chops', others 'wrinkled claws') is completely oppressive, filled with that 'feeling of dismal foreboding'. Elements of this book go through one like a knife: I think, for instance of the mother, Mrs Thatcham, who judges a day's beauty by how far one can see, yet is completely blind to what has happened on this, that allegedly most cheerful of days.

Julia Strachey with a feline companion (source)

A feline companion (George) with Julia Strachey

*  *  *

Julia Strachey Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (1932 [Persephone 2002])

And yet it hadn't been love, but some depressing kind of swindle after all, it seemed.
Wow, this is a miserable little book. But it is also utterly mesmerisingly wonderful, especially if, like me, you like your modernism in small jewel-like doses. The story covers a scant day in the life of Dolly Thatcham, who is to marry the Hon. Owen Bigham, a groom very much on his dignity. As the preparations for the wedding unfold, and the wedding party rub up against each other in the cramped space of the Thatcham house, silences are broken and secrets revealed. Dolly's life falls slowly and gently and irreversibly to pieces as her domineering and socially manipulative mother struggles to hold the wedding party together.
Dolly finished washing, arranged her black hair with the rust-red strips in it neatly. She dipped something that looked like a limp orange 'Captain' biscuit into a pink bowl on the dressing-table, and afterwards dabbed and smeared it all over her reproachful-looking face, leaving the skin covered over evenly with a light corn-coloured powder.
The whole toilet was carried out as a performing elephant might make its toilet sitting up in a circus ring, -- languidly, clumsily, as though her arms were made of iron.
...
Dolly knew, as she looked round at the long wedding-veil stretching away forever, and at the women, too, so busy all around her, that something remarkable and upsetting in her life was steadily going forward.
She was aware of this; but it was as if she were reading about it in a book from the circulating library, instead of herself living through it.
A couple of things really stood out for me in this book, and I assume that they can pretty much all be read symbolically if it is your bent to crawl about under the surface of this novella. The most obvious is the descriptions of the flowers in the house with their jewel-like colours and powerful, masking scents and arrangements. Colours and marks seem highly charged as well, perhaps to the point of over-kill, as in the bride's soiled white slippers and an unfortunate incident with an ink-well. [OK, she's not a virgin; we get it!] Then there are the mirrors, perhaps part of the distortions of truth which will come out as the story progresses? 

I can see that the overload of symbolism might be overwhelming for some readers, but I thought its suffocating relentlessness totally suited the evocation of the bride's sense of despair at her inability to halt disaster. And then there's all the talking, talking, talking but no one ever saying what they really mean until it is far too late. 

Persephone end-paper, 'Butterflies' by Madeleine Lawrence. 

Rating: 10/10. 

If you liked this... the only book I've read recently which can match this one for sheer misery is May Sinclair's The Life and Death of Harriett Frean. [ed. I might now add F. M. Mayor's The Third Miss Symons to this list of miserable yet unputdownable books]


10 comments:

  1. What a wonderful review, Vicki! Like you, I spotted much more about the descriptions and their effect on the second time around.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Simon - and thanks for the opportunity for a spot of rereading: a great idea.

      Delete
  2. Hehehe, I am enjoying catching up with everyone else's reviews now I've posted my own. I must admit I was most curious about yours and Simon's since I knew you both enjoyed it where I didn't. I really didn't know when I picked it up that this was such a 'marmite' book but it's always good to see why someone else had the opposite reaction!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder whether I would have liked it so much if it was longer - I suspect not! It's jewel-like-ness (?word) is suited to the short form.

      Delete
  3. Haven't heard of the book Vicki but it's going on my list. Will come back to the reviews afterwards. I love the cover!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I really enjoyed your review, Vicki! I should reread this too. I had forgotten just how much darkness there was under the surface of the book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Helen! It is dark, isn't it? despite all those lovely jewel colours and all those pretty flowers. (It is also a lovely short re-read.)

      Delete

{READ IN 2014}

  • [K = Kindle]
  • 155.
  • 154.
  • 153.
  • 152.
  • 151. Stormy Petrel - Mary Stewart [K]
  • 150. Rose Cottage - Mary Stewart [K]
  • 149. Rogue Male - Geoffrey Household [K]
  • 148. Cousin Kate - Georgette Heyer [K; re-read]
  • 147. The Burning Wire - Jeffrey Deaver [K]
  • 146. The Broken Window - Jeffrey Deaver [K]
  • 145. The Cold Moon - Jeffrey Deaver [K; re-read]
  • 144. The Twelfth Card - Jeffrey Deaver [K; re-read]
  • 143. Geoffrey's Victory, or The Double Deception - Georgie Sheldon [K]
  • 142. His Heart's Queen - Georgie Sheldon [K]
  • 141. The Heatherford Fortune - Georgie Sheldon [K]
  • 140. The Turned-About Girls - Beulah Marie Dix [K]
  • 139. True Love's Reward: A Sequel to Mona - Georgie Sheldon [K]
  • 138. Sabre-Tooth [Modesty Blaise 2] - Peter O'Donnell
  • 137. Mona, or The Secret of a Royal Mirror - Georgie Sheldon [K]
  • 136. Six Days of the Condor - James Grady [K]
  • 135. Some Must Watch - Ethel Lina White [K]
  • 134. Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone - J. K. Rowling [re-read]
  • 133. Salad Days - Ronnie Scott [essay; K]
  • 132. The Masqueraders - Georgette Heyer [re-read; K]
  • 131. Charlie M - Brian Freemantle [K]
  • 130. The Thirteenth Pearl - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 129. Mystery of Crocodile Island - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 128. The Strange Message in the Parchment - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 127. The Sky Phantom [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 126. The Secret of the Forgotten City [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 125. Mystery of the Glowing Eye [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 124. The Double Jinx Mystery [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 123. The Secret of Mirror Bay [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 122. The Crooked Banister [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 121. The Mysterious Mannequin [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 120. The Invisible Intruder [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 119. The Spider Sapphire Mystery [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 118. The Clue in the Crossword Cipher [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 117. The Mystery of the 99 Steps [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 116. The Phantom of Pine Hill [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 115. The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 114. The Moonstone Castle Mystery [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 113. The Clue of the Dancing Puppet [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 112. The Mystery of the Fire Dragon [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 111. The Clue in the Old Stagecoach [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 110. The Secret of the Golden Pavilion [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 109. The Haunted Showboat [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 108. The Hidden Window Mystery [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 107. The Witch Tree Symbol [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 106. The Scarlet Slipper Mystery [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 105. The Ringmaster's Secret [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 104. The Clue of the Velvet Mask [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 103. The Mystery at the Ski Jump [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 102. The Clue of the Black Keys [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 101. The Secret of the Wooden Lady [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 100. The Clue of the Leaning Chimney [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 99. The Ghost of Blackwood Hall [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 98. The Clue in the Old Album [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 97. The Mystery of the Tolling Bell [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 96. The Clue in the Crumbling Wall [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 95. The Secret in the Old Attic [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 94. The Clue in the Jewel Box [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 93. The Quest of the Missing Map [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 92. The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 91. The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 90. The Clue of the Tapping Heels [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 89. The Haunted Bridge [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 88. The Whispering Statue [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 87. The Mystery of the Ivory Charm [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 86. The Message in the Hollow Oak [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 85. The Clue of the Broken Locket [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 84. The Password to Larkspur Lane [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 83. The Sign of the Twisted Candles [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 82. Nancy's Mysterious Letter [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 81. The Clue in the Diary [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 80. The Secret of Red Gate Farm [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 79. The Secret of Shadow Ranch [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 78. The Mystery at Lilac Inn [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 77. The Bungalow Mystery [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 76. The Hidden Staircase [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 75. The Secret of the Old Clock [Nancy Drew] - Carolyn Keene [K]
  • 74. Pineapple: A Global History - Kaori O'Connor [K]
  • 73. Pineapple Girl - Betty Neals [re-read; K]
  • 72. Hunting the Wild Pineapple - Thea Astley [K]
  • 71. At the Sign of the Golden Pineapple - M.C. Beaton [K]
  • 70. Minerva - Marion Chesney (aka M.C. Beaton) [K]
  • 69. The Pendragon Legend - Antal Szerb [K]
  • 68. North from Rome - Helen MacInnes [re-read]
  • 67. Modesty Blaise - Peter O'Donnell
  • 66. The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart [K]
  • 65. The West End Front: The Wartime Secrets of London's Grand Hotels - Matthew Sweet
  • 64. Louisiana - Frances Hodgson Burnett [K]
  • 63. The Lost Prince - Frances Hodgson Burnett [K]
  • 62. T. Tembarom - Frances Hodgson Burnett [K]
  • 61. Lucy Carmichael - Margaret Kennedy [K]
  • 60. Love Lessons: A Wartime Journal - Joan Wyndham
  • 59. The Venetian Affair - Helen MacInnes [re-read]
  • 58. The Double Image - Helen MacInnes [re-read]
  • 57. Venetia - Georgette Heyer [re-read; K]
  • 56. Poison in the Pen - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 55. Ladies Bane - Patricia Wentworth [re-read?]
  • 54. Spotlight [a.k.a. Wicked Uncle] - Patricia Wentworth
  • 53. The Benevent Treasure - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 52. The Catherine-Wheel - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 51. The Alington Inheritance - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 50. The Key - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 49. The Watersplash - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 48. Miss Silver Comes to Stay - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 47. The Ivory Dagger - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 46. Miss Silver Intervenes - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 45. Pilgrim's Rest - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 44. The Traveller Returns - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 43. The Case is Closed - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 42. Vanishing Point - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 41. The Chinese Shawl - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 40. Through the Wall - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 39. Lonesome Road - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 38. The Runaways [Linnets & Valerians] - Elizabeth Goudge [K]
  • 37. The Blinded Man [Misterioso]- Arne Dahl [K]
  • 36. Cloak of Darkness - Helen MacInnes [re-read]
  • 35. The Hidden Target - Helen MacInnes [re-read]
  • 34. Sprig Muslin - Georgette Heyer [re-read; K]
  • 33. The Corinthian - Georgette Heyer [re-read; K]
  • 32. The Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer [re-read; K]
  • 31. The Unknown Ajax - Georgette Heyer [re-read; K]
  • 30. The Quiet Gentleman - Georgette Heyer [re-read; K]
  • 29. Unnatural Death - Dorothy L. Sayers [re-read; K]
  • 28. Want to Play - P. J. Tracy [re-read; K]
  • 27. The ABC Murders - Agatha Christie [re-read; K]
  • 26. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 25. The Listening Eye - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 24. Brewster's Millions - George Barr McCutcheon [K]
  • 23. A Fair Barbarian - Frances Hodgson Burnett [K]
  • 22. Gimlet: King of the Commandos - Capt. W. E. Johns [re-read]
  • 21. Out of Circulation - Miranda James [K]
  • 20. Beautiful Ruins - Jess Walter [K]
  • 19. The Blank Wall - Elisabeth Sanxay Holding [K]
  • 18. Dumps: A Plain Girl - L. T. Meade [K]
  • 17. The Inconvenient Duchess - Christine Merrill [K]
  • 16. Biggles Takes it Rough - Capt. W.E. Johns
  • 15. Pnin - Vladimir Nabokov [K]
  • 14. The Silver Linings Playbook - Matthew Quick [K]
  • 13. Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell [K]
  • 12. The Case of William Smith - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 11. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Kate Douglas Wiggin [K]
  • 10. A Sweet Girl Graduate - L.T. Meade [K]
  • 9. A College Girl - Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey [K]
  • 8. The Woman Who Did - Grant Allen [K]
  • 7. The Golden Child - Penelope Fitzgerald [K]
  • 6. Her Father's Name - Florence Marryat [K]
  • 5. They Do It With Mirrors - Agatha Christie [re-read; K]
  • 4. Hallowe'en Party - Agatha Christie [re-read; K]
  • 3. Cards on the Table - Agatha Christie [re-read; K]
  • 2. Dumb Witness - Agatha Christie [re-read; K]
  • 1. Fer-de-Lance - Rex Stout [K]